Environmental Audit Committee

23 October 2003 NEW REPORT

23 October 2003 NEW REPORT

The World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002:

EAC reports on Government efforts to turn the rhetoric into reality

A year ago, over 100 national leaders took part in the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) and signed up to more than 500 commitments to tackle global problems relating to poverty and resource use.  Twelve months on, the EAC publishes its report examining the action which the Government has taken to meet its WSSD commitments and UK performance at the Summit.

Commenting on the report, the Chairman of the EAC, Mr Peter Ainsworth MP said:

"We cannot pretend that the Johannesburg Summit equalled the Earth Summit of 1992 in terms of its scope and breadth of vision - to that extent it was a missed opportunity when we think of the global challenges that we now face. The Action Plan agreed at the Summit was too vague and too woolly to provide a blueprint for domestic action. However, it has the potential to generate some real policy changes across Whitehall.

He went on to highlight the following:

-The UK must translate the Action Plan into a more robust and auditable implementation programme against  which progress can be reported to Parliament.

-The EAC expects to see the Johannesburg commitments reflected in specific departmental targets and objectives, including those set in the 2004 Spending Review.

-The UK Government was a progressive force at WSSD and has made a good start in implementing the commitments it signed up to. In particular, we are pleased to note that the UK has been one of the first nations to publish its plans to take forward the Summit commitment to develop a national programme to change our consumption and production patterns in order to protect the environment.  It's a huge undertaking but crucial if we are to ensure that continued economic growth does not mean greater environmental damage.  We will be monitoring the development of this programme to ensure that it is the radical review of resource use envisaged at Johannesburg rather than a cobbling together of existing policies."

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Report conclusions and recommendations

1. We recognise the difficulties associated with an international event of the scale of the Summit. However, in the context of the scale of the global challenges we face and the potential which the Summit presented, we find it impossible not to feel a sense of missed opportunity.  Nevertheless, the Summit achieved more than many expected. The outcomes were solid if somewhat limited and it is essential the UK Government rigorously pushes for their implementation.  (Paragraph 26)

2. The outcomes of WSSD could provide a helpful step along the path to sustainable development, if implemented effectively.  However, like many, we are disappointed that participating nations could only agree a handful of specific targets and timetables amongst the range of commitments which they made.   (Paragraph 27)

3. We welcome the extensive range of Partnerships for Sustainable Development which have been established to support the commitments made at the Summit.  It is important that these Partnerships are effectively monitored to ensure that they amount to more than a re-branding of existing initiatives. (Paragraph 28)

4. We are encouraged that the UN Commission on Sustainable Development has introduced measures to monitor the progress of Partnerships against UN guidelines and has required them to report regularly on their progress.  This monitoring process will be crucial in maintaining the credibility of these projects. It is important that the UK Government maintains pressure at UN level to ensure that this process is sufficiently resourced and rigorously followed-up. (Paragraph 29)

5. We believe that the UK delegation took a realistic and sensible approach to negotiations at the World Summit, and performed well despite the limitations of negotiating through EU channels. (Paragraph 43)

6. The Government was slow to capitalise on the sustainable development communications opportunity offered by the Summit. The confusion surrounding Michael Meacher's attendance was an appalling own-goal, serving only to detract media coverage further from the Summit's purpose.  However, we congratulate the Government for its effective media briefing at the Summit. It is essential that the Government's sustainable development communications review evaluates Summit experience to inform future sustainable development communication strategies. (Paragraph 49)

7. We strongly support DEFRA's efforts to ensure that the Johannesburg commitments are incorporated into the mainstream of existing departmental work programmes.  It is important that the commitments are swiftly embedded.   (Paragraph 57)

8. In the absence of a separate implementation mechanism, it is essential that the Government ensures that the key Johannesburg commitments are fully reflected in Spending Round 2004 as specific targets and objectives in Public Service Agreements and Service Delivery Agreements.   (Paragraph 60)

9. As part of their bids for Spending Round 2004, departments will be required to submit a sustainable development strategy.  We recommend that HM Treasury ensures that these strategies set out how each department is intending to implement any identified Johannesburg commitments even if these are not reflected in formal targets. (Paragraph 61)

10. If the UK takes an enthusiastic approach to the development of a sustainable consumption and production strategy, it could pave the way for a radical review of the use of resources in the UK.  The preparation of such a strategy  offers a key opportunity to weave together strands of existing energy, waste and procurement policy and ensure that each reinforces sustainable resource use. We look to the Government to produce a clear vision for sustainable resource use which avoids merely cobbling together existing policies into a strategy for business as usual.   (Paragraph 77)

11. The Government has been promising resource productivity indicators since 1999.  We recommend that their development is made a priority and that the UK pushes for their development at EU level to support the EU Sustainable Development Strategy as called for by the EU Environment Council. (Paragraph 78)

12. The wording of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation is too vague and the commitments too indirect to enable effective auditing. We recommend that the Government develops and publishes a specific action plan for the implementation of its Johannesburg commitments which would form the basis of subsequent audits. (Paragraph 81)

13. We welcome INTOSAI's initiative to seek to develop guidance for audit institutions world wide on the effective audit of national performance against the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. We also congratulate the UK National Audit Office for taking a lead in this work. (Paragraph 85)

14. We recommend that the National Audit Office initiates discussions with DEFRA and the Sustainable Development Commission to explore how they could work together to report UK progress against the Johannesburg commitments.  Any such arrangements should take account of the need to keep Parliament informed, preferably through regular reporting to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee. (Paragraph 86)

15. The World Summit commitments have led to renewed calls by the EU Environment Council to ensure that sustainable development is at the heart of EU policies and policy-making processes.  We urge the UK to maintain its efforts to ensure that sustainable development permeates beyond the realms of the EU Environment Commissioner and Environment Council and is effectively integrated across the full range of EU governance. (Paragraph 92)

16. We welcome the UK's role in pressing for the reform of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) and welcome the new monitoring and review arrangements which the CSD has adopted to assess progress against the Johannesburg commitments and sustainable development principles in general. (Paragraph 96)

17. We believe that the status of UNEP should be enhanced to reflect its important role as the key UN facility relating to environmental protection and sustainable development. We would like to see the UK Government actively support and progress such reform. (Paragraph 99)


Notes for Editors

1. The Committee's report, The World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002: From Rhetoric to Reality is available on the Committee's website at:


The Committee announced its inquiry in a press release on 28 October 2002. Prior to the Summit, the Committee published a report on The UK Preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (26 March 2002). A Committee delegation also attended the Summit and reported on its visit -Johannesburg and Back: The World Summit on Sustainable Development - Committee Delegation Report on Proceedings. These reports are also available on the website.

2. The UN World Summit on Sustainable Development took place between 26 August  and 4 September.  The  key outcomes included a: Plan of Implementation, political declaration, and new action-orientated, partnership agreements between stakeholders to take forward particular projects. Further details of these agreements can be found at:


3. A key commitment arising from WSSD was for nations to develop a 10 year framework of programmes to accelerate the shift to more sustainable patterns of consumption and production, decoupling economic growth and environmental degradation.  In line with this agreement, the Government  published a discussion document Changing Patterns - UK Government Framework for Sustainable Consumption and Production and a consultation on related indicators on 25 September 2003. See www.defra.gov.uk.